Blake Farenthold has still not paid back $84,000 settlement

Farenthold hasn’t paid back $84K settlement
Blake Farenthold

Two months ago, Rep. Blake Farenthold vowed to repay the $84,000 he used in taxpayer money to pay the settlement of a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment and other improper conduct.

As of Friday, he has still not done so.

Farenthold’s communications director, Stacey Daniels, confirmed to CNN that the congressman has not cut a check yet and is “waiting on advice of counsel before acting.”

Farenthold first vowed on December 4 that he would pay back the money, telling a local TV station, KRIS in Corpus Christi, Texas, that he is “going to hand a check over this week to probably Speaker Ryan or somebody and say, ‘Look, here’s the amount of my settlement. Give it back to the taxpayers. I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this.”

The House Ethics Committee announced late last year it would investigate Farenthold for allegations of sexual harassment from the former aide, Lauren Greene, who received the $84,000 settlement after she sued Farenthold in December 2014 for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

CNN later reported that a former senior aide to Farenthold approached the Ethics Committee in December 2017 to share a damning account of working for the Texas Republican, describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning — and his congressional office as an intensely hostile environment that drove the aide to physical and emotional distress.

Farenthold denied some of the allegations against him, but also apologized using for inappropriate language and his role in creating a hostile workplace. He announced in December that he would not seek re-election.

A month after that, Farenthold’s office said the holdup for repaying the settlement was because they wanted to see what legislative fixes the House made to the Congressional Accountability Act.

The CAA set up the Office of Compliance, the agency that handles workplace complaint and settlements, and allowed members of Congress to use taxpayer money to pay off settlements out of a Treasury fund.

Farenthold’s office said in January that “on the advice of counsel (the congressman) is waiting to see what changes the House will make to the Congressional Accountability Act before repaying those funds.”

On Tuesday, the House passed legislation to reform the law, which among other changes would require members of Congress to repay the Treasury fund within 90 days. But the bill is not retroactive and would apply only to future settlements. The legislation still needs to be approved by the Senate to become law.

Asked by CNN if Farenthold should still be paying back the funds, the chairman of the Committee on House Administration — the committee that crafted the legislation — said that is up to the congressman to “resolve” for himself.

“At the end of the day, it is up to each individual member to do the right thing,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican. “We can’t make him do that. Nothing I say to him or anybody else (will) require them to do that.”

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, AshLee Strong, told CNN, “Rep. Farenthold told the speaker he would be paying the settlement back, and we have since repeatedly stated he should pay it back.”